Ellicott's Commentary for English Readers
These are also proverbs of Solomon, which the men of Hezekiah king of Judah copied out.XXV.
7.THE THIRD GREAT DIVISION OF THE BOOK; ANOTHER COLLECTION OF SOLOMONIC PROVERBS, CHIEFLY PARABOLIC IN CHARACTER (Proverbs 25-29).
(1) These are also proverbs of Solomon, which the men of Hezekiah copied out.—To this time they had existed, it may be, partly by oral tradition, partly in writing, but now Hezekiah, in his anxiety to preserve these sacred memorials of the past, had them copied out and formed into one collection. To his care we probably also owe the compilation of Books II. (Psalms 42-72) and III. (73-89) of the Psalter, in the former of which are included several psalms of David’s which had not found a place in Book I., though this last-named book consists almost, if not entirely, of psalms ascribed to him. In the same manner the present book (Proverbs 25-29) contains proverbs of Solomon which apparently were not known to the compiler of the previous collection.
It is the glory of God to conceal a thing: but the honour of kings is to search out a matter.(2) It is the glory of God to conceal a thing.—For the more we search into the mysteries of nature or revelation, the more do we discover depths of which we had no idea before. God has so ordered things that man may not presume to measure himself with his Maker, but may recognise his own insignificance. (Comp. Romans 11:33, ff.)
But the honour of kings is to search out a matter.—To see their way through political difficulties, and to unmask crime and fraud.
The heaven for height, and the earth for depth, and the heart of kings is unsearchable.(3) The heart of kings is unsearchable.—A warning, it may be, against presuming upon the favour of a king from thinking that one knows all that is in his mind. (Comp. Proverbs 23:1-2.)
Take away the dross from the silver, and there shall come forth a vessel for the finer.(4) And there shall come forth a vessel for the finer.—Or, So there results a vessel to the refiner, or silversmith. He is able to make one.
Take away the wicked from before the king, and his throne shall be established in righteousness.(5) His throne shall be established in righteousness—whereas violence and wrong pull it down. (Jeremiah 21:12; Jeremiah 22:3, sqq.; Zechariah 7:9, sqq.)
For better it is that it be said unto thee, Come up hither; than that thou shouldest be put lower in the presence of the prince whom thine eyes have seen.(7) In the presence of the prince whom thine eyes have seen, and whose place thou hast shamelessly taken. The same lesson was repeated by our Lord in Luke 14:10, sqq., and enforced on the ground of His own example. (Matthew 20:25, sqq.)
Go not forth hastily to strive, lest thou know not what to do in the end thereof, when thy neighbour hath put thee to shame.(8) When thy neighbour hath put thee to shame.—Proved thee to be in the wrong, and won his cause against thee.
Debate thy cause with thy neighbour himself; and discover not a secret to another:(9) Debate thy cause with thy neighbour.—As our Lord says, “If thy brother trespass against thee, go and tell him his fault between thee and him alone” (Matthew 18:15). Or it may mean, “If you must go to law with another, do not drag others into the matter by disclosing their secrets in order to help your cause.
Lest he that heareth it put thee to shame, and thine infamy turn not away.(10) Lest he that heareth it put thee to shame.—Lest he cry shame upon thee for thy treachery, and thine infamy be not forgotten.
A word fitly spoken is like apples of gold in pictures of silver.(11) A word fitly spoken.—Or, it may be, at the proper time. (Comp. Proverbs 15:23.)
Apples of gold in pictures of silver.—Probably golden-coloured apples are meant, or fruit of the same tint, such as pomegranates, citrons, or oranges. “Pictures” of silver probably means “figures,” i.e., baskets or dishes of ornamental work.
As the cold of snow in the time of harvest, so is a faithful messenger to them that send him: for he refresheth the soul of his masters.(13) As the cold of snow in the time of harvest.—Not a snowstorm, as this would be a calamity (Proverbs 26:1), but snow employed to cool drinks in the summer heats. The use of this was probably familiar to Solomon in his summer palace at Lebanon (1Kings 9:19). The peasants of Lebanon are said now to store up snow in the clefts of the mountain, and convey it in summer to Damascus and the coast towns. For the opposite picture of the unfaithful messenger comp. Proverbs 10:26.
Whoso boasteth himself of a false gift is like clouds and wind without rain.(14) Whoso boasteth himself of a false gift—i.e., talks loudly of what he is going to do for another, and then does nothing.
Clouds and wind.—Generally followed by heavy rain, (Comp. 1Kings 18:45.)
Hast thou found honey? eat so much as is sufficient for thee, lest thou be filled therewith, and vomit it.(16) Hast thou found honey?—A common occurrence in Palestine, where swarms of wild bees abounded in the woods. (Comp. Judges 14:8; 1Samuel 14:27.) Hence came the expression of a “land flowing with (milk and) honey.”
A man that beareth false witness against his neighbour is a maul, and a sword, and a sharp arrow.(18) A maul—i.e., hammer, connected with “malleus” and “mallet.” A false witness is as mischievous as the most deadly weapons.
As he that taketh away a garment in cold weather, and as vinegar upon nitre, so is he that singeth songs to an heavy heart.(20) As vinegar upon nitre, by which the nitre is rendered useless.
Is he that singeth songs to an heavy heart.—Not the true sympathy advised by St. Paul. (Romans 12:15.)
For thou shalt heap coals of fire upon his head, and the LORD shall reward thee.(22) Thou shalt heap coals of fire on his head.—Thou shalt make him burn with shame at the thought of the wrong he has done thee. Thus, to bring a sinner to repentance is well-pleasing to the Lord, who shall reward thee for it. This is better far than to indulge resentment, which must bring sorrow to oneself, punishment from God—whose prerogative of vengeance (Romans 12:19) has been usurped—and only serve to harden the offender in his hostility.
The north wind driveth away rain: so doth an angry countenance a backbiting tongue.(23) The north wind driveth away rain.—The marginal rendering is probably more correct: “The north wind bringeth forth rain;” but as this seems to be opposed to Job 37:22, it has been thought that the north-west, which is a rainy wind, must be intended here.
So doth an angry countenance a backbiting tongue.—Rather, So doth a backbiting tongue (bring forth, or cause) troubled faces.
It is better to dwell in the corner of the housetop, than with a brawling woman and in a wide house.(24) It is better to dwell in the corner of the housetop.—See above on Proverbs 21:9.
As cold waters to a thirsty soul, so is good news from a far country.(25) Good news from a far country.—This is suggestive of the little communication which in old times took place between distant countries.
A righteous man falling down before the wicked is as a troubled fountain, and a corrupt spring.(26) A righteous man falling down before the wicked . . .—The mouth of the righteous was described (Proverbs 10:11) as a “well of life,” from the comfort and refreshment it brings to the weary- through the just and kindly counsel it offers. But if the righteous man yields to the pressure put upon him by the wicked, and through fear or favour gives up his principles, then he can no longer give forth counsel out of a pure heart; he becomes like a fountain which has been fouled by the feet of cattle drinking at it (Ezekiel 34:18), and like a corrupted spring.
It is not good to eat much honey: so for men to search their own glory is not glory.(27) So for men to search their own glory is not glory.—The sense of this passage is very doubtful. It may mean, “But to search into difficult matters is an honour.” Self-indulgence and study are here contrasted.
He that hath no rule over his own spirit is like a city that is broken down, and without walls.(28) Like a city that is broken down, and without walls.—Exposed to the assault of every temptation.